The Execution of James Lindsay in the E-Polis
A powerful cultural critic's permanent suspension from Twitter reveals the danger of their technocratic tyranny
Twitter is arguably the essential virtual space for civic discourse, and its masters would like you to believe it is merely a private social media platform that they can rule as they see fit. Yet, Twitter is much more than a private social media platform. The key to understanding the nature and danger of Twitter’s tyranny lies in understanding what it truly is: the governing body of America’s most populous and prominent e-polis, in which 23% of Americans virtually reside.
As of August 5th, 2022, another voice was snuffed out of existence from the e-polis as Twitter permanently suspended cultural critic and author of Cynical Theories, James Lindsay. The suspension came after Alejandra Caraballo- a trans-woman and Leftist activist from Media Matters, successfully reported Lindsay for replying, “OK child sexualization specialist,” to Caraballo after he accused Lindsay of “misogynoir” (a dislike of black women). This quip was undoubtedly a reference to Caraballo’s extreme LGBTQ activism, which some have criticized for its agenda-driven targeting of children (see Drag Queen Story Hour and inclusive sexual education).
That one Tweet by Lindsay was enough to be deemed “hateful conduct,” which Twitter identifies as “attack(ing) or threaten(ing) other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” Twitter has not clarified what group of people Lindsay allegedly harassed. One could speculate that Twitter saw it as a swipe against so-called “minor-attracted peoples” (pedophiles), but it’s more likely that his comment presented an opportunity to punish him for being an unapologetic critic of all things woke.
While Twitter argues its reporting service impartially upholds its terms of service for all users, it is, in reality, a weapon of the political Left used to snuff out voices heretical to their orthodoxy. Lindsay was one such heretic, regularly challenging dominant narratives and worldviews, usually unapologetically and without fear of retribution. There is no doubt that Twitter wanted to make an example of him, and so another heterodox voice has disappeared from the e-polis known as Twitter. Yet, what happened today is far more grave than a petty Twitter administrator’s selective enforcement of Twitter’s terms of service; and to appreciate the gravity of what occurred, one must truly understand the complexities of the new spaces we occupy.
While the space occupied by the physical infrastructure of America’s internet is small, the virtual space this infrastructure creates is intimately interwoven into our national fabric. It is for this reason that our right to free speech extends to what we produce on the internet, but here’s the catch: private social media platforms occupying this space can regulate speech that falls under their digital domain. In theory, this makes sense, for as in the physical world, corporations and private citizens can regulate and control speech on their property. So logically, this would apply to the digital property owned by social media platforms.
Yet, what if Twitter doesn’t own the space it created? What if Twitter intersects with civic space to constitute something not entirely private or public but with features of both? Like a virtual city- an e-polis- largely private but supported by public infrastructure, subject to civic affairs, and occupied by free people. It is in this view that the Twitter e-polis necessitates free speech protections for its 75 million American residents.
An antiquated and opposing counter-argument states that because Twitter is a private company, its created space is an entirely private virtual space. Yet, this is a naive and reductive view, one that is absurd when considering the complexities of where Twitter exists and how it operates. While Twitter originates with its servers, it cannot create its virtual space without its data residing on and operating from private and public property, such as our phones, tablets, and home computers, or that of government bureaucrats and elected officials. These connections, which help to give life to Twitter’s virtual space, occur through both public and private fiberoptics. With such a high degree of interconnectivity, it must be asked how Twitter can operate like a public utility but regulate speech like a wholly private company.
And what of those who reside in Twitter’s e-polis? Were Twitter limited to private citizens- requiring government officials to use it as such- the case for protecting speech on Twitter would be weaker. Yet, government bureaucrats and representatives come to Twitter as public servants to execute their civic obligations by communicating with their constituents, proposing legislation, and giving formally state-sanctioned remarks. Twitter has become a medium through which our republic operates, and therein lies the problem: it is a technocratically-ruled mechanism of the republic.
Perhaps Twitter is less an e-polis and more an e-fiefdom where citizens and officials of the republic alike must show fealty. If that is the case, how can one not find it gravely concerning that a tyrannical private government rules over the space in which the affairs of the republic are conducted? When a citizen- or government official- can be censored or virtually imprisoned for expressing dissenting or unpopular ideas, how can we be confident that the conversations essential to civic life are happening? How can we have faith in the popular sovereignty from which our elected officials draw power if Twitter can silence them on a whim? And what recourse is there? If one persists in unpopular speech, Twitter can send them to the gallows, which happened to James Lindsay today; a virtual execution without due process. Twitter did this not because he committed a capital crime but because his speech offended someone. And they went further than permanently silencing him; they subjected him to exile and erasure. James Lindsay can not only never return to the e-polis, but by permanently suspending his account, they erased all records of him ever being a citizen. Regardless of what you think of the value of James Lindsay’s speech, you should be concerned at the relative ease with which an individual e-tyrant decided his fate. Not only has Lindsay’s voice disappeared from the most prominent of America’s e-poleis, but he has been denied participation in its civic processes through his loss of virtual citizenship. The elected officials that come to Twitter to conduct civic business will continue to do so, absent the voice of one additional constituent.
The role Twitter plays in facilitating our civic lives while simultaneously subjecting them to technocratic rule impedes our democratic functioning. However good the intentions of those suppressing speech are, they seldom produce favorable social outcomes. It is in the darkness that bad ideas evade scrutiny and fester until they can no longer be ignored, and truth that is at odds with widespread consensus is suffocated. Twitter, having little faith in free people or regard for what is true likely does not care. Thus, it is time for the supreme court to consider these arguments and makes a ruling in the republic's civic interests, not the techno-tyranny's political interests. While it is true that Twitter is a private company with a terms of service agreement, the manner in which it exists and operates should subject it to higher terms of service: the Constitution of the United States.